MAternity, MEternity, misunderstanding, and grace

I came across this article a couple days ago that talks about how all women, regardless of child status, should be granted meternity leave, a play on maternity leave. As with all things on the Internet, it has sparked a complete outrage within the ranks of mothers vehemently declaring how maternity leave is no picnic, there is little time for self-reflection, is over in the blink of an eye, and they are still just as exhausted after as they were before.

I concede that these are all very true and accurate responses, though obviously, things got nastier than that. This author even canceled an appearance on some morning talk show (I can’t find where anymore) because the backlash to her idea and her book was SO severe. Clearly, she hit a nerve in society (and really, who DOESN’T hit a nerve anymore?) and upon my own further reflection, even though I disagree with this idea, I don’t think we should dismiss the point she’s trying to make so lightly.

First, of course, I must state that she clearly misunderstands maternity leave. In the few, short articles I read, she seems to believe that moms come back from maternity able to leave work on time and advocate for themselves because they have had some time, up to three months presumably, to reflect on their life, on what they want, on who they are. Anyone who has had a child knows this to be mostly untrue. Maternity leave is about not sleeping, getting thrown up on, healing from a traumatic event, trying to figure out this new living situation, and praying incessantly to keep this new little lunatic alive long enough that he or she may, in fact, REACH daycare. There is definitely a perception that mothers on maternity leave are kicking up their feet, binge-watching tv shows, and just generally having a good time. The only reason we have time to binge-watch anything is because this new little person thinks nighttime is a great time to be up. Until that little one figures out night and day, it’s really hard.

So now that I’ve said what moms already know about maternity leave, let’s unpack the idea of MEternity leave. It seems the premise is that she was feeling bitter that parents left of the office on time because of their kids, that parents were better able to strike work-life balance because of all the time they spent reflecting while on leave, and just the fact that they got to kick back for three months while everyone else worked late to pick up the slack of the parent. She believes that all women deserve some time off to reflect on their lives, to pursue other things, to figure out how to strike work-life balance.

Okay, friends, stop rolling your eyes and listen up (or read on) for a second.

I think she’s really on to something here, though in an interesting and misunderstood kind of way. It seems that people in all kinds of jobs across all industries are struggling with what it means to work AND have a life outside of work. There is a cultural pressure to be on and available all the time, married or not. While what I mentioned above may have indeed changed about the new parents, I doubt it’s for the reasons she believes.

Where I really think she goes wrong is understanding WHY people make the moves they do after a maternity leave – priorities shift. What once used to be just adults in the house is now adults and a baby. A baby who unashamedly and unexpectedly grabs hold of your heart and soul and refuses to let go (not like you really care). Suddenly, life is about more than just yourself and your work and you realize you don’t want to miss those moments with the kids you have. It doesn’t change as they get older, either. Their lives become more complicated, more involved, and more demanding; though in different ways.

While I certainly think that her life is about as uncomplicated as it gets (It says she has no kids and I see no indication of a husband), there is something to be said about still achieving life and meaning outside your job. We are all deep, complicated people and it takes a variety of means and endeavors to generate a fulfilling life.

For me, I volunteer at church multiple times a month, I spend time in the Bible, I run, I knit and crochet, I watch REALLY weird documentaries, I take care of my kids and teach them, I support my husband in his work by providing a somewhat clean home and meals (most of the time) – all of these things are part of who I am and what I feel makes me a complete individual. I have things that pour into others and I have things that pour into me.

So while this new idea of a meternity leave may make your blood boil or your eyes roll, I want to stress that it is important to give grace to people anyway. Any author presented a kind of insulting idea to give a leave reserved for parents to everyone ‘just because they would benefit’ – give grace. Your husband came home late (again) – give grace. Your kids are being terrors – give grace. Your friend STILL hasn’t responded to you and it’s been two days – give grace. Somebody was wrong on the Internet – give grace.

Instead of getting all up in arms every time something doesn’t go the way you want or you disagree with an idea, give grace first. Stop before you respond and think, reflect. Give grace. Give understanding. Be patient. Act in love. God has given us more grace than we will ever understand this side of heaven, we have a duty to extend the same to all. Give grace. Always give grace.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  –Ephesians 4:1-7

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An Open Thank You Letter to my Husband

Dear Husband,

Thank you. Thank you for everything you do for us, but most specifically, what you do for me.

Thank you for getting up every day and going to work for us, providing a house and food and clothes and running shoes and yarn.

Thank you for choosing to see past my results and into my intentions – whether it’s taking a few minutes to analyze a sharp tone of voice or careless word or watching the folded laundry basket pile grow and grow in the living room.

Thank you for being patient when that laundry pile grows and grows. Thank you for helping me put away clothes, which you know I dislike the most. Thank you for not grumbling too much when I don’t have time to sort folded clothes well and it’s kind of a surprise basket.

Thank you for loading up the washer with clothes you need if I haven’t done it yet instead of complaining about how I haven’t gotten the laundry done. Thank you for the reminders when you need clothes or laying your hockey gear in the middle of the laundry room so I won’t forget.

Thank you for taking the garbage out to the street every week so I don’t have to worry about. Or almost every week. 😉

Thank you for picking up the toys in the playroom when the mess gets to be too much for you instead of getting on my case about the cluttered mess.

Thank you for understanding that this staying home business isn’t quite as leisurely as it might seem. Thank you for speaking life into me when you told me that you see what I do even if I feel like I’m always behind or not doing enough. Thank you for seeing how much is juggled at home and not getting upset if I drop a ball or four for a few days.

Thank you for supporting my running. Thank you for standing behind me as I log mile after mile or begrudgingly finish my strength workout in front of an audience of a family and “not watching” when the only audience I expected was the baby. Thank you for always stepping up and babysitting the kids. 😉

Thank you for your patience as I try to figure out when the best time is to run – whether right when you get home or after bedtime. Or maybe sometime down the road, before you even leave for work.

Thank you for always being willing to pick up stuff from the store on the way home from work when I’m sure you’d rather just get home as soon as possible. Thank you for your appreciation of my efforts to keep the grocery bill low(ish) and provide a variety of meals.

Thank you for not complaining when I haven’t gotten supper started even though there’s very little reason for me to not get something thought up and started. Thank you for stepping up and making something.

Thank you for the attention you give to the kids. Our girl is always so excited for you to come home so she can play Hide or Run into Daddy or Bossypants or whatever game she has in mind. Thank you for your continual efforts to get me involved even though most of the time I’d rather just sit and watch you all (and internet a bit).

Thank you for actually looking at what I’ve knitted and giving an honest opinion instead of acting like you don’t care. Thank you for validating my hobbies and knowing that they are important to me.

Thank you for stepping in when I’ve come to the end of my patience for the day dealing with the kids. Thank you for reading the same stories over and over, every night before bed.

Thank you for reminding us to pray before supper and bed.

Thank you for never wife bashing with the other people you know who do that. Thank you for always choosing to honor me even though I am far, far from perfect.

Thank you for your always honest words, even if it’s not what I want to hear at the moment, because I know you say it because you care.

Thank you for listening to me talk endlessly about something I’ve heard or read or seen or wrote or watched. Thank you for being interested in what I have to say (or feigning it if you’re not). Thank you for being a sounding board for ideas.

Thank you for telling me you’re proud of me when you see me say something on the internet or defend a position. Thank you for not being stingy with supportive words and telling me how proud you are that I’m your wife.

I am proud of you and so proud that you are my husband. I am so grateful you don’t wonder what I do all day. I am so thankful you don’t complain when I fall short on a weekly basis. I am proud to call you my own and take up the mantle of your last name to change the course of the future for your family line. I so am proud to be your wife and to have you as the father of our children.

I love you so much and I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years of our life together brings.

Love always,

Your Wife

“Have you lost weight?”

“Have you lost weight? You look great! You look so skinny!”

Can we agree that this is not a compliment?

You might be thinking that I’m a bit crazy. You might be thinking I live on another planet (or maybe should) or that I’m not up with times or that losing weight is a bad thing.

Some of the above may be true. Yes, some people would be much healthier if they lost some weight. But some people wouldn’t. Some people might be happier for milisecond after such a comment.

Can I share a truth with you, though?

It’s a loaded compliment. It’s a compliment that comes with pressure. Pressure to lose more weight. Pressure to keep it off. Pressure to start losing. Pressure to fit into those old clothes you finally gave up on. Pressure to buy a scale. Pressure to see if it’s true. Pressure to see if others noticed. Pressure to diet. Pressure to restrict what you eat. Pressure to be more miserable.  It’s a compliment that, at the end of the day, isn’t really one at all.

Because what if you haven’t actually lost weight? What if you’ve GAINED weight? What happens if you’ve lost weight, but then you gain it back? What if you’ve just been enjoying a healthier lifestyle and weight loss is a barely noticed (by you) side effect? What if you’ve worked really hard at managing a healthier diet and incorporating exercise into your life?

And yet, weight is all that matters. It’s the only thing noticed.

A few years ago, after I had my first baby, I was training for a marathon. Like as soon as I could run after having her because I only had five months to train. Obviously my baby weight melted off. I was running hours every week, I was doing some personal training sessions, I was working my tail off for the goal of the marathon (which I completed, by the way, with the help and support of great friends and family).

I got a LOT of “you’ve lost weight!” comments that I didn’t know how to handle. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a scale, I couldn’t confirm it. I was back in pre-pregnancy clothes pretty fast, though. I’m sure I slimmed down, but I didn’t really notice. They were super awkward comments for me. Losing weight has never been a priority for me after having kids, so to have that be the sole compliment was a little disheartening.

Why?

Because I was working toward a goal bigger than weight loss and all that extra work went unacknowledged.

Until someone at church said “Wow, Cari, you look so STRONG!”

“Thanks. I’ve been training for a marathon.”

In that moment, in that sentence, in that conversation that lasted probably 12 seconds, my life changed. My outlook changed. I had been seen. My work had been acknowledged. Now when I looked in the mirror, I looked for strength and not a slimmer belly. I looked for muscles, not less fat.

Two years later, even though she has moved on and I haven’t seen her in some time, I still hear her words when I look in the mirror. When all I can see is my baby belly, her words float to the surface, “You look strong”.

What if we tried compliments like that?

You look strong.
You look vibrant.
You look healthy.
You look _____.

What about if you KNOW they are working toward a goal? Why are we so collectively afraid to give a specific comment about something we KNOW is happening?

I saw your design on Instagram. It looks awesome.
Your kids really love you. I love watching them light up when you get back.
I saw you running. You looked like you’re ready to tackle your next race.

If we complain about how society only focuses on looks, we need to step back and ask what we are doing about it? Do you talk to our friends about skinny or strong? Do you work toward skinny or healthy? Do you look in the mirror for fat?

We can change things. YOU can change things. I can change things. A simply comment, two years ago, changed my life and my outlook. I have never made a weight loss “compliment” since. If I can’t think of something else to say, I don’t say anything.

The people around us deserve better than “skinny”. They deserve strong, vibrant, overcomer, healthy, glowing, happy, content – any other positive word. Watch someone light up when you give that compliment. Watch their world change.

I want to challenge you to give someone a non-skinny compliment when you have the chance and share it here or on facebook. Let’s change the world, friends!

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” –1 Samuel 16:7

Defending simplicity in childhood

A friend of mine shared this article  on her facebook page, and though I’ve read many articles sharing similar themes, I found this one to be especially interesting given my background in psychology. The article talks about how having too much stuff can actually push normal childhood quirks into the realm of abnormal thereby actually CREATING mental health disorders. Very interesting stuff.

I’ve been doing daycare for two full years now and when I first started, I read a lot of articles about how kids need a large variety of open-ended toys to stimulate creativity. I joined a daycare providers facebook group and saw lots of pictures of small spaces crammed with toys in really creative ways by people doing it a heck of lot longer than I had. Since having my own kids and starting up a daycare, I’ve received LOTS of free or really cheap toys, and so to be a good a good daycare provider, I put out ALL THE TOYS at the same time hoping for creative, independent play.

defending childhood 0

So since you can’t really see in the above picture, both the shelf and the cabinet are crammed with stuffed animals and small toys, plus the foam blocks and wood blocks. Behind the cabinet is a white, plastic 4 shelf unit also crammed with toys. We used the whole basement as the primary daycare play space.

Defending childhood 1

This above picture is the other half of the basement. Behind me was another climbing toy slide and the corner unit of a desk under which I stored all the napping supplies (pack’n’plays, blankets and nap toys) and on top of which hosted the diaper changing supplies and my laptop for a near constant stream of music.

As I read, I learned on the Internet (of all places) that I pretty much had the IDEAL set up. Lots of toys, lots of space, as safe as any space reasonably can be, and a ‘yes’ environment for the kids. I also had toys upstairs in our living room in a two-drawer filing cabinet plus another medium sized rubbermaid of toys where they played while I made lunch.

So when it came time for us to decide we wanted out of the city into a smaller town and a slower pace of life, I naturally wanted to find somewhere that would have a decent sized dedicated play space. And once again, I crammed ALL THE TOYS in there. Naturally, it looked like a tornado went through every. single. day. and that stressed me out a lot and I spent a lot of time putting stuff away “where it belongs”.

Defending childhood 2

A teacher friend of mine then recommended I rotate toys and helped me begin the process. So I put away about 50% of the toys. And the above picture is what it looked with ONLY 50% of our toys in there. I wanted the climbing toys because I believe in good opportunities for physical activity, even if we’re trapped inside 6 months of the year (at this age). I wanted as many open-ended toys as I could to “help stimulate creativity”.

There was still so much clutter. It still stressed me (and my much tidier husband) out. I still spent a lot of time cleaning up and trying to teach the kids to clean up. They still weren’t as creative as I would expect them to be.

defending childhood 3

So I got rid of a slide. I weeded out even more toys. I took the white shelving unit out. I gave some toys away.

defending childhood 4

It is SO much more manageable now because there are fewer toys.

As I’ve reflected, a few things have stuck out to me.

  • At our first house, even with all the toys available, the girls mostly played with just a few toys each day. And some of their favorites were wearing receiving blankets as superhero capes, running around in the middle when all the toys were picked up, each girl pulling on a corner of a receiving blanket and running around (we called the game “pull), and stacking the foam blocks when I made them into cubes. They mostly played together, with all the same toys. They liked the really simple stuff.

 

  • One had a tendency to grab a few toys and hoard them all day, transferring them from safe spot to safe spot (away from my daughter, haha) and would get really upset if she lost even one of them. Looking back and knowing what I know now (from yet more reading and my own personal experience experience), she was clearly overwhelmed with the selection and needed to simplify. So sitting with her cup and spoon and ball and one or two other things was calming for her. She could control those things when so much else was out of her control. I wish I had realized at the time the importance of that. I would have helped guard her selected toys more vigorously and not made her share them if she left them unattended and one got nabbed.

 

  •  They weren’t as creative as I would have expected given the large variety of toys like I had been led to believe. They bounced from toys to toys, making giant messes (which is fine, kids do that and we cleaned up every day before lunch), but I expected more creativity. They never spent enough time with just one toy to really begin being creative. They also expected me to play with them A LOT instead of playing by themselves. I am all for playing with kids, but I think it’s REALLY important that kids learn to play by themselves and provide their own sources of entertainment from time to time.

(As I sit in the kitchen writing this, my son is napping and my daughter and daycare kid are entertaining themselves, playing together sometimes, playing separately, but happily playing without intervention from me. Clearly I have grown and learned.)

What I’ve discovered is that less is truly more when it comes to kids playing. The fewer toys they have, the more creative they have to be with them. The more we provide mindless entertainment and tell them what to do when they complain “I’m bored”, the more we stifle real creativity. One naturally must be bored in order to be creative.

We moved to a small town at the beginning of summer, three months before my son was born. I did not get a daycare kid all summer, so it was just my daughter and I. While surely I’m unique in this regard (no, no I’m not), I didn’t have much energy. I rather enjoyed just sitting in a lawn chair watching her play outside pretty much every day. I didn’t get down on the floor much, I didn’t run around much, I didn’t do much of anything much. And she did just fine. She played for hours with water in the pool with her plastic cups. She found sticks in the yard and ran from the dogs or fed the sticks to the dogs. She climbed on our climbing toys. She sat in a chair next to me for 30 seconds before she was off again. She played the dirt and mud. In short, she had a blast all summer, developed gross and fine motor skills without any sort of planning on my part, developed her language skills, and developed her ability to play pretty much alone.

After the birth of my son, things were pretty chaotic as we adjusted to being a family of 4 instead of 3. I also started a daycare kid a few weeks after he was born. Lots of changes. For Christmas, my daughter received a Play All Day Elmo toy who talks and has games and whatever and for most adults is terribly annoying. Elmo VERY QUICKLY became her favorite toy. She lugged him everywhere around the house and played with him ALL. THE. TIME. Looking back, I see he was a constant in her life, her friend who was always there and not tired or looking after a baby or making food or doing whatever it is adults do after having a baby. Elmo was ALWAYS there for her.

Then, one fateful day, she played in her poopy diaper. There was poop on the walls. On the window. On the floor. On the windowsill. On Elmo. After assessing the situation, I decided it wasn’t worth the time to spend cleaning him off because with a mechanical head, he is not machine washable. She was absolutely devastated when she saw him in the garbage and wasn’t allowed to take him out and then saw dad take him to the outside garbage. It was a pretty traumatic event for her (and for me as her mother who had to put her to bed alone that night with no Elmo and the saddest little toddler tears you’ll ever see). We replaced him with a washable Elmo the very next day after discussing the importance of Elmo even though we never really hit the nail on the head of him guiding her through a pretty rocky stage of her young life.

It’s taken me some time, but I’ve realized why Elmo is so important and why he’s her best friend. I’ve realized the constant. We now have a rule in our house that she does not have to share Elmo or Cookie Monster (who was given as a gift to be a friend for Elmo) with anyone if she doesn’t want to. Those are her toys and her toys only. If she asks for them, they MUST be returned to her. As a result, she is more than willing to share everything else. When she’s overwhelmed with lots of noise or people (as is her tendency), she grabs Cookie and Elmo and walks around holding them until she’s able to process and join in the fun.

The best part is that she is SO creative with those two toys since she spends so much time with them. She changes their diapers. Takes them for walks. They climb on chairs and slide down the slide. They “attack” us and eat our legs or ears or noses. They push us over. She practices soothing techniques I use with her. They push buttons on the play microwave or my son’s music toy or the kid piano. They play in the bouncer. They get waterless baths in the bathroom. She really gets to integrate all the things she sees and practice them because her focus is on fewer toys. Sure, we still have WAY too many, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.

It is important to me that my kids can entertain themselves without me, without some kind of electronic device, without a lot of toys. I want them to learn about the creativity inside of themselves, like I learned when I was young, and to have an active imaginary life. We didn’t have movies when we drove two hours to grandma and grandpas – we had the radio, maybe a couple toys or a book, but we were really left to our own devices to entertain ourselves on the drive. My daughter is slowly learning how to do that on our drives since it’s 30 minutes to anywhere from our house.

What about you, friends? What is important to you?

Kids really need simplicity and predictability because everything in them is changing so much and so fast – from what they can do and understand to what they can see and say. Kids need time to integrate what they’re learning and free play is how they do it. If we want our children to grow up happy, healthy, and be productive members of society, we need to let them be bored to generate creativity, to allow them stillness and quiet time, and not schedule every second of their little lives. There are lots of days I wish I had more freedom to go to town and adult, but I if I really think about it, being home most of the time is really what they need to develop their best selves.

I’m certainly not perfect and I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve learned (mostly from my wonderful husband) that you can only get somewhere one step at a time. I have to envision the future I want for them and for our family, then figure out what I need to do today to help that. What do I need to do today to help them be more creative or learn more about their bodies work? What do I need to do today to help them develop awareness and learn about consequences? What do I need to do today to be the model for them to follow?

My children will be like me someday and I want that to be a good thing. I keep that in my mind almost all the time. So what does that modeling look like?

Sometimes that means retreating into the kitchen to write a ridiculously long blog post while they play in the playroom. Sometimes that means sitting in a chair on interacting verbally. Sometimes that means playing on the floor and being goofy or coloring with them. Sometimes that means going outside and playing together or going on a walk.

It’s always about doing the thing I’d want to see them imitate (which I don’t always do) and remembering to apologize when I fail and work to start fresh again. Friends, we all need to slow down, to lighten up, to put less pressure on kids to learn, to stop wishing for the next stage, and just let them be kids. They have their whole adult life to be adults. Let’s just let them be kids for a while.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. –Proverbs 22:6